PM Pick

The branded life

When a consumerist society funds technology, the resulting developments should be expected to further consumerism and the mind-sets, the assumptions, that enable it. Thus much technology allows us to expedite our consumption, a process labeled convenience. One would also assume it would be directed toward making us view more advertising, as advertising is the primary vehicle for reproducing the consumerist ideology. But much of the latest home entertainment technology seems driven by the power it gives consumers to circumvent ads. This would seem to foil my little argument, however the technological screening of overt ads has had the effect of pushing ads deeper into the fabric of our entertainment and our society, thus if anything, enhancing their ideological potency (if not their selling power of a specific product).

This development is chronicled in yesterday's New York Times story "When the Ad Turns Into the Story Line." Because the independent ads are tuned out, advertisers have partnered with television production companies to integrate the ads directly into the narratives of the programs. Whenever this sort of change is reported -- and it happens often; it's a business-section evergreen -- advertisers are usually depicted as "scrambling" to keep up with consumers, struggling to "adapt" to those ever more crafty consumers, who are remorseless and ever resourceful in their drive to thwart Madison Avenue. It's a flattering enough rendering of the situation for consumers, making it seem as though they have all the power. But it flatters advertisers too and plays into their industry's rationalizations that they somehow serve the public or are consigned to chasing after them in our "consumer-driven society." And it grants a preposterous air of inevitability to the infiltration of ads deeper into all forms of social space. This absurd statement illustrates what I mean: "Network, advertising, and production executives say that this season, more and more brands will venture outside the confines of 30-second ads. They may have no choice: As technology and clutter blunt the effectiveness and reach of commercial spots that have underpinned the business...the various players are scrambling to adapt." They have no choice? Consumers, in fact, have no choice but to have their entertainment come packaged with brands. Advertisers are choosing to seize upon technological innovations as an excuse to penetrate further and insinuate marketing messages into areas that individuals have become increasingly desperate to protect from such exploitation.

But TV execs and advertisers have one specific message for you if you don't happen to like this infiltration: tough shit. "If people get insulted they can go watch PBS or go rent an independent movie. Seriously, this is the real world," says one advertiser, again drawing on the "ads are inevitable/we have no choice" ruse. The "real world" is one in which everything must be commercialized in order to be legitimate, in order to survive. The real world is branded with the product names that this flunkey pimps to the world. The world of PBS and independent movies is not "real" -- insignificant and underfunded, reduced to mere alibis for consumerist expansion, they are bogus alternatives that allow the commerical hegemony to present itself as a free choice made by individuals. If you don't like that hegemony, not only are you being naive and unrealistic, you are also failing to avail yourself of your freedom of choice, and are thus irrelevant and anti-democratic. Never mind that the either-ors of how you entertain yourself personally has nothing to do with a desire to see commercialism's infestation restrained by some counterveiling force.

With the extension of advertising into the fabric of narrative, advertisers hope we'll just accept the presence of brands in entertainment as a given, as an entirely natural part of any given universe -- "The fact is brands are part of our why not showcase them?" Again, don't blame advertisers, they are just trying to see that the existing reality is reflected. The underlying result of these product-placements is not merely to expose us to more ads but to wear down our collective resistance to the idea that there is a difference between marketing and entertainment. Advertisers must hope that eventually we will see them as the exact same thing, part and parcel of one another. It's already happening in consumer magaiznes, which are harder and harder to distinguish from catalogs.

It may seem like advertisers merely want to convince you to buy whatever specific product they're implanting in these shows, but in fact it's more insidious than that. They are hoping that you'll begin to sturcture the episodes of your life around brands, just as the TV shows are, to see them as major life events, like the narrative hooks of typical episodes past wherein the relationships of the characters are transformed in some specific way. The presence of brands commercializes those rituals, and leads us to expect them to be comercialized to be "real," or it may make our relationship to brands equivalent to our relationship with others, something that develops our trust and evolves through various crisis moments that these shows can depict in placing products. Without brands our lives become increasingly unreal, unverified, unauthorized, invisible to others, who have become more and more accustomed to gauging brand relationships in attempting to integrate others into their lives. So we must adopt the appropriate brands or else risk disappearing.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.